The Pyrox Wire Recorder

The Pyrox Wire Recorder was made in Australia after the end of the Second World War and was, for a few years, a favoured device for recording sound in the field due its relative portability. In the days before transistors, this machine was considered a marvel of miniaturisation even though it weighed approximately 10 kilograms without an inbuilt power supply.

This particular example was used by Professor T.G.H Strehlow to record the myths and ceremonial song cycles provided by his Aboriginal informants while undertaking fieldwork in Central Australia in 1949 and 1950.

Strehlow had longed to make sound recordings since he began his fieldwork in the 1930’s, but found the ‘clumsiness’ of using wax discs for sound recording in outdoor conditions prohibitive.

I was particularly anxious therefore, to secure good colour movies and adequate wire recordings while an opportunity remained to procure material that will be of first class importance to anthropologists, social scientists, and linguistic research workers of both our own time and the future. In spite of my misgivings and obstacles, I was able to collect rather more material than I had dared to hope. The wire recordings of myths and chants require 16 hours to play, and 4,000 ft. of Kodachrome colour movies were taken of the secret ceremonial performances.” (TGH Strehlow 1950)

Wire recorders became a popular replacement for the portable but fragile devices that had been used by radio stations, scientists and researchers for decades. It became possible to make a recording in the field, using inbuilt amplification technology, and playback the results to an audience in real time. The era of portable magnetic sound recording had arrived and it revolutionised audio capture.

Strehlow found this technology particularly advantageous as his Aboriginal informants could immediately hear the results after a recording session and provide feedback on the result. Much of the material Strehlow recorded on his wire recorder in 1949 and 1950 has never been heard in public as his informants told him not to reveal their secret sacred songs indiscriminately to others. Strehlow honoured their wishes and the song recordings remain accessible only to Aboriginal custodians of those traditions to this day.

Competition among companies marketing magnetic recording technology was fierce after the Second World War and the limitations of the wire recorder compared to the plastic tape based formats soon became apparent. The magnetised wire could only record in mono, while magnetic tape was able to record in stereo. Portable tape recorders became more widely available in Australia during the 1950’s and the Pyrox Wire Recorder was soon replaced by the superior tape based formats.